Calcium deficiency: Symptoms and risks
By Danielle Butbul, MPH, RDN Mar 07, 2022 • 5 min
Calcium is an important nutrient that serves many functions in supporting your overall health. Because of this, you need a continuous, daily supply to ensure you don't become deficient.
Who is at higher risk for calcium deficiency?
Many Americans do not get enough calcium from their diet. Not getting enough calcium over time can lead to deficiency. Some groups, however, are more likely to become deficient than others, including:
People who avoid dairy. Dairy is the most common source of calcium for people, so those who don't eat or drink dairy products are at higher risk of calcium deficiency because they often depend on nondairy food sources for calcium.
Postmenopausal women. During menopause, women's bodies break down older, damaged bone tissue and rebuild it—a process called bone remodeling—at a much faster rate than at other stages of life. Although bone remodeling is designed to repair weak bones, after menopause, the body doesn't rebuild bone as quickly or effectively as it can break it down. The situation can be exacerbated if there’s a lack of calcium in the diet.
People who are deficient in vitamin D and magnesium, as well as those with conditions that affect the production of parathyroid hormone, might also be at higher risk of calcium deficiency. Your body needs these hormones and minerals to absorb calcium from foods and to utilize the calcium once it's absorbed. Therefore, a lack of vitamin D, magnesium and parathyroid hormone can lead to low levels of calcium as well as the inability to use the calcium that’s present in the body.
What are the risks of calcium deficiency?
Since calcium is used for so many processes in the body, calcium deficiency can pose a variety of health risks, including:
Hypocalcemia: This is when the calcium levels circulating in the blood drop below normal levels.
Tooth decay: Calcium strengthens the outer, protective layer of the tooth, called the enamel. Calcium deficiency on teeth can decrease the strength of enamel, which could increase the risk of tooth erosion and cavities.
Rickets and osteomalacia: These conditions are characterized by reduced bone strength and bone deformation due to insufficient calcium and phosphorous in the bones. Rickets is the term of this condition in children, and osteomalacia the term in adults.
Osteoporosis: This condition causes weakened and brittle bones, which can lead to bone fractures.
These conditions usually occur when calcium deficiency is severe. If you're concerned that you might have any of these conditions or develop them in the future, consult your healthcare provider.
What are the symptoms of calcium deficiency?
There are few short-term signs of calcium deficiency. However, if a deficiency becomes more severe over time, it can lead to hypocalcemia symptoms, such as:
Abnormal heart rhythm
Muscle numbness and spasms
Tingling in the hands and feet
Most people can get the calcium they need by following a healthy diet. If you are concerned that you aren't getting enough calcium, consult your healthcare provider, who can help you determine if calcium supplementation is right for you.
Published March 2022.